Baumann v. Zhukov – Trucking Accident Liability

Multiple-vehicle crashes often happen when two or more vehicles strike one another in a chain of rear-end accidents. They can sometimes be the result of a single driver’s negligence, but chain reaction crashes often involve carelessness on the part of numerous drivers. However, determining causation can be tricky. Although a single driver may concede 100 percent liability, there is often a number of factors that must be considered: Poor road conditions, construction hazards or numerous drivers who are distracted, drunk or operating aggressively.truck

Fault matters in these cases because that finding will determine who is liable to pay for damages sustained by those injured or surviving loved ones of those killed. That’s why insurance companies will dispatch special investigators, who will appear at the scene of the crash to assess the facts immediately. It’s imperative for victims’ interests to be represented as well, and that’s what our Naples injury lawyers do. We work to conduct an independent and thorough accident investigation and work closely with accident reconstruction experts, expert witnesses and other professionals to reach conclusions regarding liability.

In the case of Baumann v. Zhukov, the issue of fault in a multiple-vehicle accident on a Nebraska highway was raised before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The question was whether those involved in an earlier fatal crash that resulted in highway lane blockage could be liable for another fatal collision that resulted when a truck driver failed to stop for halted traffic.

For the federal appellate court justices, the issue came down to time and space. That is, there was both a physical and spatial distance between the two accidents that made plaintiff’s assertion of fault against defendants difficult to prove. Plus, the negligence of the truck driver that struck decedents served as an “efficient intervening cause” of the deaths, and his negligence actions were not foreseeable.

According to court records, the initial crash happened around 4:20 a.m. The driver of a tractor-trailer rig struck an object in the road, causing his vehicle to lose air-brake pressure. He was forced to pull over. However, he failed to move his rig to the shoulder, as experts would later opine he could and should have done. Instead, his rig blocked the right lane. He did place flares behind the rig to alert upcoming traffic, but it was later determined those flares were too close to his vehicle, in violation of standard operating procedure in that instance.

Fifteen minutes later, another tractor-trailer driver approached and apparently did not see the stalled rig ahead in time. He failed to stop or even slow down, and he struck it at a high rate of speed, killing the driver and resulting in a fire. The violent crash resulted in all westbound lanes of the highway being blocked. Police and other emergency crews arrived at the scene, and traffic backed up for nearly a mile.

One half-hour after the crash, a family was at the end of that line. They were in two different vehicles – pregnant mother and two small children in the front, behind a semi-truck, and the father in another vehicle, behind mother. Behind them, another tractor-trailer approached at 75 mph. He did not stop or even slow down. His work log would later show he’d been driving 14 hours straight at that point, in violation of federal regulations.

The trucker smashed into the father’s vehicle, which was propelled into the mother’s vehicle which then was forced underneath the truck ahead of her. The entire family perished.

Their loved ones later sued not only the truck driver who had struck them, but also the truckers and employers of those involved in the earlier accident. The allegation was but for the negligence of those parties, the highway would not have been obstructed and the family would not have been killed.

However, trial court ruled – and the federal appeals court later affirmed – plaintiffs failed to establish proximate causation with respect to the drivers involved in the earlier crash. Rather, it was the third truck driver’s negligence that was the efficient intervening cause of the crash.

This does not mean plaintiffs will not succeed in their case. However, it means only the truck driver – and his employer and insurance company – may be held liable for the devastating truck accident.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Baumann v. Zhukov, Oct. 1, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Riley v. Ford Motor Co. – Defective Vehicle Lawsuit Results in Increased Damage Award, Oct. 6, 2015, Naples Truck Accident Attorney Blog